Employers across the US hired fewer than expected people last month, according to new figures that showed a slow, if steady, recovery in the labour market that is likely to factor heavily in the Federal Reserve's calculations as it considers rolling back its stimulus measures.
The Labor Department said payrolls in the world's largest economy expanded by 162,000 over July, fewer than the 183,000 news jobs anticipated by analysts. Although the growth was slower than forecast, the unemployment rate, drawn from a separate survey, fell to 7.4 per cent from 7.6 per cent, its lowest since December 2008.
The lacklustre growth highlighted the continued impact of what is still a wounded economy that is recovering only slowly. The pressure of government spending cuts was apparent in the figures, which showed that public payrolls had declined.
Worryingly for an economy dependent on consumer spending, the report showed Ameri-cans are earning less money: average hourly earnings fell 2 cents to $23.98 and the average workweek also fell.
In addition to publishing figures for July, the Labour Department revised its estimates of job growth over May and June, saying 26,000 fewer jobs had been created.
The figures come as the Fed considers when and how to begin reducing the size of its $85bn (£56bn) per month bond buying programme.